From February 1st-3rd, 2017, my hometown of Ottawa, Canada was host to the MEGAPHONO Music Showcase and Conference. My application for a media pass was accepted, and here is the main article I wrote. It’s not just an ICYMI, though I do have readers from all around the world. What I really wanted to do was add value and draw lessons from the various conferences that were hosted.
There were five of them, hosted in the Citizen Café on Gilmour and Elgin downtown: “Get The Best From Your Fest” (on music festivals), “Do Something Real” (on online promotion), “Before The Shredder” (on legal contracts), “Getting Great Sounds On The Cheap” (on audio engineering) and “We Managed To Make It This Far” (on management).
I refer to the panelists by name, but a full list of them, along with brief bios, is available here. Are we ready? Let’s go!
Make friends with everyone. (from: “Get The Best From Your Fest”)
“The biggest mistake you can make at a festival,” declares Brian Hetherman, “is assuming people will come to your show.” He’s 100% right – no matter how big and respected the festival is, there is no guarantee of the size of crowd at your showcase, especially if more than one band is playing in different locations that night. “Do smaller events [than SXSW],” Grimur Atlason suggests, cracking a joke about bands who hope to be discovered at a pizzeria. For all the jokes, there is a sliver of truth beneath them, as Dean explains that he tells band to “Go meet everyone in town.” He’s not just referring to industry people, but the local folks and music fans too, as it’s much easier to invite friends to shows, and turn them into fans.
“Exclusive” rights should be limited. (from: “Before The Shredder”)
If when placing your song, there is an exclusivity clause in the contract, it is your duty to demand more. For example, if your song gets placed in a car commercial, they may want you to not let any other car manufacturer use the song for themselves, or not let any other commercial air with your song in it at the same time. While these can make sense, they also limit the reach of your tune (and the money you earn). “A smart way to deal with that is to limit the exclusivity to the type of product, or you can limit the term,” recommends Florent Clavel.
Companies want to work with business knowledgeable artists. (from: “Before The Shredder”)
The tides are turning. The good companies (labels, etc.) are wanting to work with indispensable partners, as opposed to fireable employees. “We want to work with artists who understand the business. If we have a band who will sign anything under there nose, what else will they sign?” – Dan Koplowitz at MEGAPHONO 2017. All the more reason to start learning some music business vocabulary and applicable theories.
Be honest online. (from: “Do Something Real”)
“A strong digital identity is essential,” insists Beth Martinez. “What’s connecting more and more is honesty.” With so much over saturation of the music market, sometimes we fall into the trap of hype. However, being sincere, genuine and patient is the evergreen way of making it. To quote Adele Slater from another panel: “the slower you rise, the slower you fall.”
Ask the label to put exactly what you want them to do in your contract. (from: “Before The Shredder”)
“If a label says, ‘sure, we’ll give you tour support’ in an email [but not in the actual contract], that doesn’t mean anything,” warns Dan Koplowitz. A good contract with a bad partner is still not something you should sign, so take a good look and research who you’re getting into a legal affair with. Local entertainment lawyer Byron Pascoe gives the brilliant advice: “ask [the label] to put exactly what you want them to do for you [in the contract].” If they refuse, they probably weren’t going to do it. Also, you should consult a lawyer before signing anything.
The Digital Audio Workstation should be invisible. (from: “Getting Great Sounds On The Cheap”)
Here’s a little piece of information for you audio engineers in training: out of the five experienced panelists, only one of them uses Pro Tools, and she’s in live. “It’s all about the workflow and being efficient,” explains mastering engineer Philip Bova. “The DAW should not be in the way,” adds local studio owner Dean Watson. The panelists recommend above all to go out and experiment, as the classic records didn’t achieve their iconic sounds by the engineer reading online forums all day.
Keep all the publishing to yourself. (from: “Before The Shredder”)
Music business recap: SOCAN is the Canadian organization that makes sure songwriters get paid royalties. Common sense recap: there is no reason for the label, who didn’t write the songs, to make you sign a contract which funnels away those royalties to them.
Cheap is expensive. (from: “Getting Great Sounds On The Cheap”)
Contrary to the title of the panel, the professional audio engineers are biased towards higher quality equipment (of course). “Cheap is expensive,” Dean Watson states outright. While I personally have never encountered that experience with buying expensive microphones and interfaces myself, I bought pairs of cheap shoes in the past. Same rule applies. Over time, you’ll spend more money replacing a cheaper piece of gear over and over again, as well as have added frustration when it breaks down on the job, than you would if you had invested in a higher-quality piece at the start.
Labels are basically brands now. (from: “We Managed To Make It This Far”)
This title belongs to the insightful Mar Sellars. The context was having various record deals for covering different territories (parts of the world). In the music industry, we are at the point where a label signing an artist is show of their excellent curation skills. There are music fans who will check out any new band from a particular label, because they love everything curated so far. To artists hoping for a record deal: be sure to research everything the label you’re aiming for stands for and has signed so far (for example: a death-core band might not fit well on Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift’s indie label).
The biggest thing in this business that sells is passion. (from: “We Managed To Make It This Far”)
“Someone write that down,” a panelist shouted at the audience. I was way ahead of them. It should go without saying to the audience reading this article, that we’re all passionate people. It’s hard to have a career in the music industry, artist or not, without loving what you’re part of. Every single person I met at Megaphono gave off passion, like an aura around them; and if getting passionate off other people’s passion makes you just as happy as they are, you’re in the right place: the music industry.